Santonio Holmes has the ability to be a game changer on the field, but he also has demonstrated the desire to be a life changer away from it.
For the second consecutive offseason, Holmes teamed up with Pros for Africa on a 14-day humanitarian mission during which he made stops in Uganda and Tanzania.
"Myself and the rest of the guys who went out for Pros for Africa, we enjoy what we do," he said, "to get an opportunity to visit with the kids, and to see the people who come from all over the world to live in Africa to just take care of the sick babies, just to make sure they have foundations where they can raise families, where they can raise kids, where they can go to school, where they can have church and where they can have free time.
"Seeing the villages that are being built in Africa now, it's something I want to be a part of. My message to them is to continue doing what you're doing because someone is out here to help you."
This latest PFA trip was made with heavy hearts following the passing of 29-year-old Ashley Firmin Harris, the wife of Chargers DT Tommie Harris. Ashley was one of the first volunteers to travel to Gulu, Uganda, with the PFA in response to the humanitarian crisis in Central Africa caused by the Lord's Resistance Army.
"We donated a water well in her name," Holmes said. "We got back to the camp with Sister Rosemary [Nyirumbe], where we spend most of our time every time we're in Africa, and we helped the kids finish building their playground. Just seeing the way things are built around there, we take a lot of things that we see and we do for granted. The houses that they have are pretty much built out of water bottles and dirt, and we wouldn't expect to see anything like that and wonder how these people live like this."
Sister Rosemary, who is the director of the Saint Monica Girls School in Gulu and Atiak, Uganda, has enrolled more than 2,000 girls who had been abducted by the LRA or abandoned by their families.
"They're there because years back they were forced out of their homes and they were raped by the LRA — guys that would do the most brutal things to a person," Holmes said. "Sister Rosemary was sent down to build a better center and a better life for these kids and she has classrooms and a different living area in the camp.
"She takes care of the kids and she teaches them how to sew. They sew their own clothes. Some of the jewelry that you'll probably see me wearing in pictures or around the building — they made this jewelry out of paper and it's probably the coolest thing you'll ever see."
But this mission was about more senses than just sight as PFA teamed up with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to fit men, women and children with hearing aids
"We gave out 900 to 1,000 hearing aids to the deaf for about three of four days," Holmes said. "We traveled to Tanzania, where we got a chance to go to the Serengeti and see animals just roaming free. It was an experience that you have to go visit at least one time in your life."
Amazed by the perseverance of the farmers who dug fields all day with hoes in order to plant crops to survive, Holmes helped build the playground for the kids at Sister Rosemary's Girls School and saw a completed version of a house they had started building for a teacher last year.
"The whole feeling of going to Africa kind of releases you mentally from everything that you probably ever dealt with, are going through or probably are going to go through," he said. "It puts you at peace. Seeing the way the Africans live on a day-to-day basis kind of puts your life into kind of a total different perspective."
As he mentioned in March, Holmes is starting up a new charity: HandsUp10.org. He was particularly touched by a conversation he had with a police officer whom he had met at the airport, a man with 17 years of service and yet without the resources to ever send any of his children to school.
"To know that this guy has four kids and none of them ever had been to school kind of wanted me to do something better," he said. "I reached out to him, I got his email address, exchanged information and he's going to be one of my contact people when it's time to send all the clothes with HandsUp10.org."